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Coronavirus: 'Irresponsible' face mask adverts banned by ASA for scaremongering

Advertising Standards Authority said adverts were 'likely to cause fear without justifiable reason'

Sarah Young
Wednesday 04 March 2020 10:24 GMT
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Matt Hancock confirms number of coronavirus cases in UK has risen to 51

A series of adverts for face masks have been banned for claiming to protect people from coronavirus.

The adverts have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following an investigation that found they were in breach of rules regarding social responsibility, misleading advertising plus harm and offence.

The first advert was a listing for a face mask sold on Amazon by Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd with the product name: “Coronavirus Anti Corona Virus Vented Face Mask 3M Disposable Respirator, FFP3, Valve, 8835 (1)”.

The ASA challenged whether the advert was misleading, irresponsible and scaremongering as it was seen in the context of widespread news coverage of the major outbreak.

Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd, based in Tividale, West Midlands, did not respond to the ASA's enquiries.

“The ASA considered consumers would understand the reference to 'coronavirus' in the context of a listing for face masks to mean that the products could help protect them from being infected by the coronavirus,” an ASA spokesperson said.

The watchdog noted Public Health England did not recommend the use of face masks as a means of protection.

"We understood there was very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of clinical settings," they said.

"Prolonged use of masks was likely to reduce compliance with good universal hygiene behaviours that were recommended to help stop the spread of infectious diseases including coronavirus, such as frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands."

The spokesperson continued: “Particularly in a context where the relevant public health authority had not recommended face masks as a means of the public protecting themselves from coronavirus, we considered that the ad was misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason.

The ASA challenged whether the Amazon advert was misleading, irresponsible and scaremongering
The ASA challenged whether the Amazon advert was misleading, irresponsible and scaremongering (PA)

Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd was instructed by the ASA to ensure they did not state or imply that their product could protect consumers from coronavirus and to ensure their adverts did not “cause fear without justifiable reason”.

The ASA also banned a series of online adverts that resembled news articles and featured an image of a woman wearing a face mask covering her nose and mouth alongside the caption: “New Nano Tech Face Mask is selling out fast in United Kingdom”.

One of the examples read: “Here’s what’s unfortunately: there a lot of face masks out there that are not that effective. That is, they won’t protect you from getting sick [sic].

"However, now there’s a new breakthrough nano tech face mask that delivers an extraordinary level of protection…it’s called Oxybreath Pro, and it’s the first face mask of it’s kind [sic].

“This mask provides unparallelled protection when you need it most [sic].”

The company selling the product, Novads OU is believed to be based in Estonia and did not respond to the ASA's enquiries.

The watchdog said it was particularly concerned that one of the adverts being promoted by Novads OU also referred to the death toll from coronavirus and “a growing sense of panic”.

An ASA spokesman said: “Both landing pages made repeated references to there being high demand for the masks and the likelihood of stock selling out quickly. We considered that was likely to exploit people’s fears regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

The ASA expressed concerns that the advert would exploit people's fears
The ASA expressed concerns that the advert would exploit people's fears (PA)

"We told Novads OU, trading as Oxybreath Pro, to ensure they did not state or imply that their product could protect consumers from coronavirus and to ensure their ads did not cause fear without justifiable reason."

So far, more than 90,000 people are known to be infected with coronavirus and more than 3,000 deaths have been recorded.

On Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that the number of people diagnosed with the virus in the UK had risen to 51 and said that the threat was becoming “increasingly serious”.

Meanwhile, Italy has become one of the worst affected countries worldwide after an outbreak in the northern provinces of Lombardy and Veneto saw its death toll rise to 52 and the number of confirmed cases increase to 1,835.

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